I know it’s actually a few days after National Poetry Day, but belatedly here’s some links to some poems and then some waffling on about them (if you don’t have time to read the waffle please just enjoy reading the poems instead. I won’t be offended – I won’t even know):
The three poems for your consideration are:
Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams, 1917
I’m A Victim Of Telephone by Allen Ginsberg, 1965
German Phenomenology Makes Me Want To Strip And Run Through North London by Heather Phillipson, 2009
These poems share a sense of solitude and single-mindedness.
My favourite of the three is Ginsberg’s I’m A Victim Of Telephone (it’s possibly / probably my favourite poem).
There is a juxtaposition between the fantastic imagery of the poet pursuing his own quiet reflections – “purifying Eternity with my eye observation” – and the voices crashing in on him through his telephone. He manages to make the calls sound prosaic – “ring ring Hello this is Esquire be a dear and finish your political commitment manifesto,” is thrown our way as an example – but read in isolation they sound like interesting phone calls.
Towards the end of the poem, the calls accelerate, the sense of intrusion seems more dreadful, more inescapable. The narrator seems anxious. He speculates that everyone else is lonely and this is why they are phoning him – a problem he does not seem to have, or one which he does not care about. Instead what seems to bother him is the cacophony of voices, the unstoppable world…
Always the telephone linked to all the hearts of the world beating at once.
I can’t remember where I first read Heather Philippson’s poetry, but this poem stood out at once. In German Phenomenology Makes Me Want To Strip And Run Through North London, the act of stripping makes a potent counterweight to the poet’s studies.
It is a strange mix of high concepts and quotidian activities and the language butt up against one another “Heidegger’s dasein-diction,” colliding with, “reduced ciabatta.”
The resolution is made to put in to practise the poet’s desire to define herself herself, to follow a whim and not feel tied down by her previously stated ambitions.
When I speak of my ambition
it is not to be a Doctor of Letters
or to marry Friedrich Nietzsche, it turns out,
or to think better. It is to give up this fashion for dressing.
The work of William Carlos Williams first came to my attention when I was at University – his odd little poems hinted at an other world agenda just beyond the edge of perception, meaning loaded onto seemingly mundane things.
If Ginsberg’s Victim Of Telephone reads like a manifesto, WCW’s Danse Russe is an unashamed celebration, depicting a man dancing naked whilst his family is asleep. He sings of his loneliness and it strikes me that this is in sharp contrast to the negative connotations usually associated with loneliness.
His final line –
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
– is sublime and looks to eradicate the outside world’s influence in favour of a personal happiness described solely in the poet’s own terms.